Amid many fine releases in these locked down weeks, don’t let ‘Country Darkness, Vol. 2’, the second episode of My Darling Clementine’s series of EPs featuring the country songs of Elvis Costello, pass you by. Volume 2 may only contain four songs but duo Michael Weston King and Lou Dalgleish are perfectly qualified for the task. First, they have honed a classic country sound in their four albums and 700 gigs over nine years together. Also, in Steve Nieve, Costello’s keyboard player since 1977, they have the ideal collaborator to reinterpret these songs. What particularly stands out is the way they have adapted songs written for a solo voice to ones for a harmonising duo.
Knowing the huge influence country music has in Costello’s music how did they get down to the next four songs for this series? From a long list of 25 songs they selected 12 that most express Costello’s country/country soul sound. From there it was a case of bringing out those that they thought would work best for two voices.
To ensure the Costello vibe remained at the core Nieve recorded the piano/keys parts to each song solo at his place in France. Via producer Colin Elliot it was over to My Darling Clementine. Understandably, all were a bit apprehensive at not being together, but the result shows how cohesively they have fused the freshness of Weston King and Dalgleish with just the right amount of original Costello from Nieve. These really are classic country recordings.
Nieve’s piano sets a moody atmosphere for Weston King’s rich country tones in ‘Either Side of the Same Town’. Dalgleish adds several layers more. Without losing the intensity of Costello’s original recorded in Mississippi, this version points more towards Nashville.
Co-written with Jim Lauderdale, ‘I Lost You’ has a lively bluegrass tempo. My Darling Clementine’s skill in turning a song for one voice into a melodic conversation shines throughout. ‘Different Finger’ is pure Marty Robbins honky tonk as Weston King and Dalgleish swap lead vocals and harmonise around piano, accordion and Spanish guitar.
Perhaps the purest reworking of Costello’s Country Darkness phase comes in ‘Too Soon to Know’. The most soulful track of the EP, this goes in the opposite direction to the ’60 soul version cut by Darlene Love and Righteous Brother, Bill Medley. Instead, My Darling Clementine play down the vocals that, next to Nieve’s chilling keys, give the song an almost southern gothic touch. It is very dark.
‘Country Darkness Vol.2’ continues My Darling Clementine and Steve Nieve’s excellent work in recreating one of Elvis Costello’s most enigmatic periods that should appeal to long-standing Costello fans and a new audience alike. Bring on Vol.3!